Gallery from Freq Fest SF Day 1 at DNA Lounge. Artists Featured: Curious Quail, Doctor Popular, Space Town, Together We Are Robots, & Kevyn Gnartinez Band
Looking to catch a night of indie rock super groups from the Bay Area? Then look no further than Next Saturday August 20th’s line up at The Great American Music Hall featuring Abbot Kinney, Panic Is Perfect, Dangermaker, & Vacances. All these artists are going to rock the house but one in particular stood out as an up and coming Bay Area band making waves around the scene.
Abbot Kinney has come a long way since moving from LA to San Francisco. They have grown into their own sound and matured as a group into a indie rock power house filled with raw lyrics and a powerful sound. The evolution has taken some soul searching from lead singer and creative driving force behind the band, Jared Swanson, but it has been amazing to see him and the other members (amazing musicians and creatives in their own rights) become a cohesive unit. Each member brings a unique sound that is a culmination of the other projects they are in.
Abbot Kinney functions almost like a super group of local indie musicians with Jared Swanson as their leader. Tony Bednar (Drums) plays in another band called Crashing Hotels (Dark Electronic Rock). Carmen Caruso (Keyboard/Bass/Vocals) also leads Capybara (Psychedelic Rock). Dakota Salazar is the guitarist for several different acts around the bay from Lords of Sealand (Prog/ Indie Rock) to Capybara (Psychedelic Rock). It is the eclectic backgrounds, influences, and interests that gives Abbot Kinney a unique soul and helps flesh out the creative vision that Jared Swanson (Vocals/ Keys/Bass) is exploring through his music.
If you would like to check out Abbot Kinney’s newest release you can listen to The Night below on sound cloud and make sure to check them out live at Great American Music Hall Saturday August 20th. The doors open at 8 PM and the show starts at 8:30 PM.
I promise you will not be disappointed.
Panic is Perfect, Dangermaker, Abbot Kinney, & Vacances
Time: Doors 8 PM / Music 8:30
Location: Great American Music Hall (859 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA 94109 US)
See you all there!
Listen to Abbot Kinney’s latest release The Night:
Your Fearless Leader is aptly named, as their leader Marcus Ghiasi is truly fearless: leading his 7 piece band into a headlining slot at The Rickshaw Stop. They have a genuinely unique sound in the Bay, combining a eclectic lineup of sax, trumpet, violin, keyboard, drums, guitar, and bass. It may sound like the lineup of an up-and-coming ska band, but they are far from it. Their sound is closer to a hard-rockin’ jazz band with anthemic guitar riffs and driving bass line which combine well with Marcus’s distinct vocals.
They have taken their diverse musical backgrounds and truly made a sound that is uniquely them. Your Fearless Leader has a deeply personal nature to them and hold a wide range of topics as opposed to just the usual love and heart break to relationships. They have a catchy quality that draws in the listener and can truly get them into the lyrics of the song.
It was great to see a reprise and reinvention of a song that Marcus originally wrote for GRMMR BCH (Grammar Beach); a band made up of Balanced Breakfast members Marcus Ghiasi (Your Fearless Leader), Alexi Belchere (The Y Axes), Nick Schneider (The Y Axes), Suzanne Yada (Little Spiral), & Fred Hausman (myself). The song evolved into something more than just a one-off project, as it was for GRMMR BCH. The amazing rendition fully realized the potential of the song and truly ushered it into a different realm.
I have never seen a venue so packed on a Tuesday night as the Rickshaw Stop was. Your Fearless Leader closed out an amazing night of music after The Old Grey Whistle Test, Ice Cream, and We Arsons (who was celebrating their EP release). I had not had the pleasure of seeing these artists before. It was great to see a diverse and talented lineup of artists performing on an early weeknight and to see the crowd staying late to support the amazing headliner, Your Fearless Leader.
Blood & Dust announces the release of “Charlie Dixon,” a live performance video shot at Ex’pression College in Emeryville.
With the face of singer Doug Tieman alternately basked in sunlight and obscured in the shadow of the brim of his hat, the dapper gentlemen of Blood & Dust whipped with the sound and energy of a steam engine. The clanking rhythm of the tune could only have been further exemplified were it recorded live on top of a locomotive.
Drummer Jason Slota expertly wrangled the fiery energy of the room, pounding the beat into his thigh with a tambourine and into the floor with a kick drum.
Shots of the stretching neck of the double-bass met the intricate thrumming fingers of bassist Paul Geoghan as he nodded insistently to the beat.
Motes of dust ricocheted across the rust-colored wall, no doubt launched by the sliding twang of Brandon Venable on steel guitar. The metallic body of the instrument casting him in an eerie glow, the guitarist looked almost nonchalant as his strings cracked out a solo that split the song in half.
While the scraping melody flicked from his acoustic guitar, Doug’s sliding honey vocals rushed from his smiling face:
“Charlie stared that crowd right down and he started to sing. He said, I’m a hungry man.. and I’m gonna chew you up and swallow you whole, but I ain’t going home till I get my fill.’”
Doug sang, as unabashedly as the protagonist of his song.
In those devil-may-care words, in that careening orchestration and crashing rhythm— filmmaker Kevin Willing and sound engineer Allen Antoine captured the energy of lightning bugs in a jar, of Blood & Dust.
An Interview with Lady Lazarus
Lady Lazarus cloaks lyrical reflections in impressionistic musical musings. From her debut album Mantic, recorded in 2011 at her home in San Jose, Melissa Sweat has shown a penchant for a home-grown sound. That first album, mailed to Pitchfork by her brother, received glowing reviews, praising her musical musings. Since then, Lady Lazarus has risen, putting forth “All My love in Half Light,” recorded by Jason Quever of Papercuts in SF. On March 3rd 2015, Sweat unveiled her newest tableau,”Miracles” on her label Queen’s Ransom.
I first met Melissa in 2011, backstage at The Uptown Nightclub in Oakland at her headlining set. At the time, I was playing cello for a SF indie-rock band by the name of Doe Eye on the same bill. I was immediately struck by Melissa’s glowing California-girl image. With sun-kissed, blonde tresses, and a glowing smile she delivered a set that was more invitational in nature than I had expected from a project named after a poem by Sylvia Plath. Even then, Melissa had the foresight to see her project would take flight, leading her from her childhood home of San Jose to Georgia, to LA to Joshua Tree, CA to Austin, TX where she now resides, working on a multitude of creative projects.
What I have always loved about Melissa, and what has remained consistent in her style, is her openness and willingness to share her creative process. It was just prior to Mantic, she began teaching herself music after purchasing an electronic keyboard from a Craigslist ad. Pitchfork noted in a 2011 review of her track “Eye in the Eye of the Storm,” that Lady Lazarus gives the bare minimum song elements but is able to provide ample blanketing for her nostalgia-tinged words. Her subsequent album All My Love in Half Light is testimony to her musical growth; themes, musical motifs, and technique are more evident, but she still retains her invitational style. The strength of her lyrics, neither overwrought nor simplistic are enhanced with her placement of sound (in a Debussyian sort of way) meant not to fit in any formal sonata scheme but placed deliberately to enhance her words. She places words with music the way Debussy played tone clusters within Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun. Within a formal structure, Lady Lazarus falls outside the box, she is beyond the confines of the pop formula.
Via an email exchange, that was sparked by my interest in San Jose’s thriving artistic culture that is receiving more and more attention, Melissa shared her thoughts about growing up in San Jose and how it shaped her and Lady Lazarus.
Where did you go in San Jose to be alone? Were there particular spots you would head to when you were pissed off and needed refuge?
Two of my favorite spots to be alone in San Jose were at parks: hiding among the roses in the municipal Rose Garden, and sitting on top of the big green hill watching planes fly overhead at the Guadalupe River Park & Gardens on Taylor and Coleman. I’d also like to put on my headphones and go on extremely long walks and generally ghost all around downtown. One of my favorite areas to explore was the warehouse district where the Art Ark is and Citadel art studios. The door to the Citadel oddly used to be open and you could go roam around in there, though you probably weren’t supposed to. I had no idea that there were so many artists living and working in this strange little section of downtown, and I loved discovering and exploring it.
You moved several times from SJ. With each move what kind of homesickness (if any) did you experience?
I love San Jose, but I don’t think I could ever live there permanently–still, I long for it all the time. It was such a comfortable and nurturing place for me to grow up as a young creative person, and I always felt safe exploring it on my own, wandering, and going on adventures. There’s always been an innocence and humility to San Jose that I love, and I hope it always remains. It’s never going to be San Francisco or Oakland, and that’s a good thing. I miss the old familiar places and my friends when I think of San Jose… and I miss the wonderful times I had growing up and when I returned. I think if I moved back now, though, it wouldn’t be the same for me. Right now I’m living in Joshua Tree, a village of 8,000 people after living in Los Angeles, and I’m not sure what I want out of a city… maybe I’m not sure where I belong in one, or if I belong anywhere, really. I think I have a lot more exploring to do, but San Jose will always be home to me, even if I don’t live there.
In what ways has San Jose changed during your time growing up? Are there any particular changes that are significant to you?
San Jose is becoming more hip in some ways with all the development and new businesses downtown, but I worry that it will become too posh and lose its weird edge. I heard that the Blank Club is closing, which is really very sad. It was a refuge and a void will be created, but maybe the scene is growing older and the younger kids are just into other things. Things just change, and I’m not sure what it means to be “alternative” or “underground” in San Jose now. But I don’t live there, so maybe there are a lot of great things going on that I don’t know about. But I think when I was growing up San Jose it felt a bit more Slacker-esque (like the Linklater film) and now it feels a lot less weird and more grown up with its shit together–and I think I miss the weirder side.
When you are onstage, what thoughts do you have the moment before you begin playing?
I try not to have too many thoughts, and just try to feel. And what I feel is my most beautiful, inside and out, and I try to feel and be, well, magnanimous.
What is happening for you in 2015 (music or otherwise)?
I’m releasing my third album Miracles on my new label Queen’s Ransom. It came out on 3/3/15, and the title track is out now. Take a listen… and send my love to San Jose, please. I miss it.
At the beginning of the night, the main floor of The Chapel, a converted mortuary on Valencia street is empty. The venue, with red lit lamps and 40’ foot ceilings is stunning.
Before Ms. Wells takes the stage, the dreamscape sounds of Emily Neveu open the night.. “The other Emily,” as Ms. Neveu refers to herself with a dry delivery manages to break up the initially cold atmosphere that the venue delivers.
Performance spaces set the tone for performers, informing the audience of the aural programming as much as the acoustics. A space like the Chapel is a tough venue to open. Filling a room, sparse with audience is no easy feat, especially with the only open bar in the two room space is the one outside the performance area. Neveu’s set manages to warm the space and coupled with her sarcastic wit between songs, they set the stage for Emily Well’s entry.
As our main act steps on stage, the room becomes instantly quiet. The murmuring of her fans stops. They are captivated before she even begins. She transfixes audiences with her musicianship, the kind of performer who makes a room quiet the second she begins. She’s a storyteller, and her audience is eager for a tale.
On stage is a drum, pedals, keys, and a violin all manipulated by her into a tapestry of sound. She weaves together a combination of the poetic and the everyday. Her observances are unpretentious narratives.
Behind her a film of Pina Bausch plays silently. Well’s set is the live accompaniment that makes Bausch’s movements audible. Between layers of melody and textures, Well’s shares moments from her journeys. After each song, the audience moves in closer, reveling in her stories of being on the road.
The acoustics of The Chapel are ideal for this symphony of one. The reverberation of looped violin, mixed with excerpts from classical repertoire that acts as liaisons between songs feel authentic in a hall reminiscent of a cathedral.
Tonight we’re her passengers.
This article is long overdue. Meant to be published after I saw her perform at SF’s “The Chapel,” on October 21st, 2015.
A name is powerful; it brings meaning to an otherwise empty space or thought. The Watkins Family Hour conjures an older time that harkens back to the Grand Ole Opry or the Johnny Cash show, but with a contemporary twist of new wave bluegrass and Americana goodness.
Friday August 14th at the Freight and Salvage was a night to behold. Former Nickel Creek founders Sean and Sara Watkins front the Watkins Family Hour in addition with Alt rock royalty, Fiona Apple. One could only describe the band makeup as eclectic, but there was something that begged to be heard and experienced.
Sean and Sara took to the stage wordlessly, her fiddle in hand and his vintage Gibson J-45 at the ready. The silence was broken by a fluttering melody from the movement of her bow as she carved the stage with a dance that was punctuated by her stomps. Sean’s clean picking and slides rang out and entranced the crowd. We were in heaven and the Watkins were our host of Angels.
The second tune brought Fiona to the stage and the rest of the Watkins Family Band. It began driving like an old country tune but with the soul of Motown. Fiona’s voice swirled like smoke through the auditorium and intertwined with Sara’s until the two became one. The crowd was gripped and silent until the song’s break where Fiona wailed “Like A Goddamn Fool I Introduced You” –the crowd shouted in excitement as if we saw history being made.
Like a true old timey family hour, the band took a break to make way for folk singer Tom Brosseau. Tom’s quiet Midwest nature and quirky humor were the perfect breath that was needed for the night. The strings of his guitar cut the silence in the room gently and as he finished his last tune the room was in quiet anticipation for what was to come.
The night continued as each member of the Watkins Family Hour took a place in the round of leading a song. From Roger Miller to Bob Schneider to the Boswell Sisters, the air was filled with a blend of sweat, soul, love, longing, and laughter until the band took it’s original form to perform one last tune. Like the leader of a church choir, Sara got every member of the audience to sing along. It was truly a celebration and each song of the night accomplished its task in drawing the people of the occasion together.
The Watkins Family Hour just released their debut Album “The Watkins Family Hour.” It’ll give you a glimpse of greatness.
“I imagine your dead body lying in my bed..” Bent Knee vocalist Courtney mused, playing a light tinkling of bell sounds across her keyboard. With these first few notes the audience plunged into the depths of Bent Knee’s sound- depths sometimes murky and dark, sometimes clear and cutting, and always shocking to a new audience, surprised to suddenly find they could breathe underwater all along.
Bent Knee are not an SF band in the geographic sense, but their establishment as regulars at SLG Art Boutiki in San Jose make their yearly Bay Area appearances something special. Like migrating birds they darken our skies, making the stark light piercing through their feathers that much brighter.
On this year’s tour from their Boston home, violinist Chris noted they would be trying newer material. “Whatever constructive criticism you have, we’d appreciate it,” he said before sound check.
“We’ve had some feedback with each album that the music has become more and less accessible,” said Courtney. “In the content.. and the music..”
“See if you can come up with an album name while we’re playing,” added Chris.
“I’m leaning toward ‘Six Jaunty Sea Captains, We,’” said drummer Gavin, smiling and nodding enthusiastically. A native of the Bay Area, his parents were in the front row of this show, swaying and singing along. Swaying to Bent Knee is a potentially dangerous act. With complex hit patterns, and unique time signatures, attempts to dance to Bent Knee can lead to some erratic jolting. And jolt the audience did, that is, when sweeping soundscapes hadn’t stunned them into silence.
At the helm of these soundscapes, live engineer Vince wore studio headphones and could be seen in the back corner of the stage pressing keys in his microKORG by the glow of his Macbook. Although a background figure on stage- sometimes hidden faceless behind a gas mask- with just the slightest nudge Vince’s sound wave manipulation can turn Courtney’s already mind-blowing vocals into something almost terrifying in its alien beauty.
As Art Boutiki’s sound man Dustin tested the limits of these vocals for speaker-blowing land-mines, he requested the band turn up bassist Jessica’s effects.
“She doesn’t have that many effects,” responded Courtney. “She’s leveling up; she’s spending time in the grass.”
“Pokemon jokes!” Shouted Gavin from behind his drum set. During the performance, Gavin’s precise, though seemingly erratic hits challenged Jessica’s skills as a rhythm collaborator. As if harnessed by her bass, Jessica lashes out at Gavin’s baiting beats like a wild animal. The movements are all in good fun, as each member of Bent Knee seems to be having the time of their life as they play with equal parts savagery and serenity.
From these movements their songs leak out, pulling each of the members like marionettes who have taken hold of their own strings. Playing a few songs off of their November 2014 release “Shiny Eyed Babies,” the band members broke into grins to hear their song lyrics whispered and oftentimes shouted back at them by the audience.
This energy carried into the band’s new material. With songs that crept down carpeted basement stairs into locked cabinets, songs that chanted in four-part drones, and songs that unsettlingly sounded like powerhouse pop anthems about flashbulbs and LEDS, Bent Knee’s new offerings kept the audience in a sort of trance as their captivating performance continued to generate electric energy.
Nearly an hour and a half later, the audience came up for air. Fans and converts alike took in a collective gasp as the band appeared to have completed their set. “Way Too Long?” guitarist Ben asked the crowd. “Do you mean the song, or our set was way too long?” With an ominous pounding of tom and snare followed by a simultaneous, gut-wrenching howl from vocals and strings, Bent Knee launched into their final song for the evening: Way Too Long off of Shiny Eyed Babies.
Granted a few more minutes to show them what the Bay Area is made of, the audience climbed and clawed, now tangled in Bent Knee’s marionette strings. It was truly an experience to be tied up with sound, and it will be a different experience altogether when Bent Knee comes back again next year to show us something new.
On a warm Saturday night during Pride weekend, the Great American Music Hall bustled with excitement. Not only were three amazing Bay Area bands about to share one of the most beautiful stages in San Francisco, but the Supreme Court had declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states just in time for LGBT Pride 2015.
“Guys. Love wins,” Travis Hayes said with an insistent joy that gave those words– which had for over 24 hours been a bland Twitter hashtag– such weight and meaning that they seemed to be carved across his acoustic guitar.
Opening band Travis Hayes and the Young Days turned the small stage into an arena, with Travis’ gritty folk songs translated into charging rock anthems with the help of his full band. Guitarist Brent Curriden’s stinging lead strums and Drummer Cade’s popping kick and snare made the crowd alternate between swaying headbanging every few bars. Each of Travis’ twanging lines about drinking too much and trying to think a little less were threaded with harmonies by Emily Whitehurst’s backing vocals.
These crisp sounds combined with the group’s warm stage chemistry brought an energy to the room that got everyone out of their chairs; and with a steady strum of Travis’ guitar and the creaking wood of the stage’s floorboards, The Young Daze were joined by the haunting tones of Helen Newby on Cello. With just Travis, Emily, and Helen left on stage, the room filled with an intimate hush. Lilting cello notes wafted through the heavy air, the crowd seeming to gather closer to listen to the somber second half of the set. Just as the sweat from the audience’s bodies was beginning to cool, however, the rest of the band returned to the stage for an unforgettable reimagining of The Smith’s “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”
Second to the stage was Bonnie & The Bang Bang, exploding with rabid melodic rock, the bandmates rebounding off each other as they kicked their way to the edge of the stage, to the tops of amplifiers.
The audience shuffled along, yelling back hooks through tangling beards and cups of beer. They alternated between howling words to the rafters and nodding their heads downward as if frantically agreeing with a particular drum beat, “Yes, yes, absolutely, you are correct!”
Lead singer Patrick was the key variable for each song’s equation. With every sung syllable he simultaneously defined and defied musical genres– a held-out honey-smooth jazz note could easily transform into a screamo yelp, all while anthemic chants and psychobilly basslines kept the vocals aloft.
“We’re nerds. We make music with Gameboys and then this happens,” said the headlining Curious Quail’s frontman Mike Shirley-Donnelly as his bandmate Alan Chen slid a bow across a violin. Silhouetted in the flickering shadow of their backdrop– a charcoal sketch of the Bay Bridge lit with Christmas lights– the band hummed with an electric energy, often punctuated with choreographed jumps mid-song.
Inspired by the finger lights that had been distributed at the door– not to mention the infectious rhythms of San Jose’s best orchestral-chiptune-alternative-pop band– the audience broke into impromptu late-90’sesque rave dances.
Through the catchy melodies and driving beats, Mike’s voice carried a shy sadness to it, the bleeps and bloops from a Gameboy backing track adding an air of wonderment or perhaps a grasp for dwindling innocence.
At the end of their set, Curious Quail invited the other bands to join them on stage for a cover of The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind”. This swaggeringly cathartic song was a perfect way to finish off the night. While the joyful light of marital equality may have been tinged with the knowledge that humanity still has a long way to go, at that moment– with Curious Quail, Bonnie & the Bang Bang, and Travis Hayes and the Young Daze rocking Great American, the city seemed to glow with hope.
Way José sounds equally familiar and strange. An eclectic mix of the past, it melds motifs from 60s folk, R&B, funk, and shamanistic world music. Each song is different. One’s subdued, yet still intense and introspective, another more funky and grooving.
Way José is the solo recording project of the producer/multi-instrumentalist Daniel DeMento (also of Feather-Bright), who describes the project as a collective affair. “This was an exercise in mass collaboration.” Around 40 musicians, poets and photographers have contributed so far to make Way José. They hail from the US to Australia, with plenty of Bay Area locals, including DeMento. He recorded and mixed their debut EP, Stay In The Light, himself, having studied sound engineering in Los Angeles and going on to work with many bands from coast to coast, including stints in Miami. DeMento has lived in SF for 3 years, but recently fell in love with Petaluma, where he finds the vibe and lower rent more suitable for a life of making music.
The process of writing songs involved extensive experimentation and jamming with the musicians that were available that day. DeMento recorded almost everything, and Way José is in part what was included and what was cut- the things that resonated with him, and what did not.
Way José has excellent music videos. DeMento, while open to playing live, recognized how difficult it would be to get so many performers together from all over the world, including the East Coast, and a finalist on Australia’s X Factor. There are varied instrumentation and many different vocalists, so Way José is primarily a recording project. He knew he had to focus on making the videos and music top notch, and it really shows. Recruiting Japhy Riddle and other talented videographers paid off.
“The Wind Came Up”
“The Wind Came Up” has some sounds from Gregorian chant, Simon and Garfunkel, and shamanistic ritual music. The vocals reverberate and shakers and percussion surround you. The video does a great job of accompanying this song.
“The Humbling Hum”
“The Humbling Hum” starts with fingerpicked strings on an affected ukelele, and eventually greets us with a grooving, laid-back beat. Electric guitar comes in. “The Humbling Hum” is slated to appear on a Bravo Channel docudrama.
Check out the whole EP, but do not miss the videos.